Track Down an Apps Preference File Easily By Watching Modifications

Nov 14, 2012 - 10 Comments

Track down plist files of apps easily

If you’ve ever had to track down a particular plist file for an app you know how frustrating the process can be. Though preference files are usually named in a logical manner, that’s not always the case, and regardless the prefix of com.(developer).(application) is not always the easiest to navigate through. One method is to just use the Finder search function to look for an apps name, but since not all apps follow the logical protocol, it doesn’t always work. Another very useful method uses the Finder’s “Date Modified” sorting option to track down plist files quickly instead. Here is how it works:

  • From the Finder, hit Command+Shift+G to bring up Go To Folder and enter ~/Library/Preferences/
  • Change the display to sort by list, then click the “Date Modified” option to sort the plist files by when they change
  • Now open the app whose plist file you want to track down, and then open that apps Preferences and check and uncheck an option or two while watching the ~/Library/Preferences/ folder change on the fly, that apps preference file should jump to the top quickly

The modified plist files will float to the top fairly quickly, though of you have hidden files shown, you’ll see temporary plist files show up first, ignore those and just focus on the normal .plist documents as they appear. Sometimes it takes a second or two for the change to register in the Preferences folder, that delay is normal, and is demonstrated in the video below with the plist files that are set when modifying Finder Preferences, and the plist file that changes for Recent Items:

Most Mac users will never need to dig around in the preferences file, but keep this tip in mind if you find yourself trying to fix a problematic app, when sometimes resolving problems is as simple as just trashing a plist file. This really handy troubleshooting trick comes from MacOSXHints.


Related articles:

Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks, Troubleshooting


» Comments RSS Feed

  1. Stephen Strum says:

    Q: if you believe you have a problem with any App, can you simply use a basic strategy to move that plist to the desktop and reboot to see if the problem is corrected?

    • Paul says:

      Yes, that is a great strategy to try and troubleshoot some issues with certain apps. Sometimes a preferences file can be corrupted, and what you describe is an easy way to find out if that is the culprit.

  2. adam says:

    This can be do easly with a script,
    or a bash, I was think you would purpose some Apps ;)

  3. Sam says:

    This article specifically links to MacWorldHints, I think that answers everyones question in a rather obvious way!

  4. er says:

    Which came first?: ran it yesterday.
    I second Myron’s hint about fseventer—it is a terrific utility.

  5. Murex says:

    Which came first … this post on OSXDaily or the exact same hint on

    • pdiddy says:

      Well, if you read this post before commenting, you’d probably know the answer to that question.

    • Paul says:

      As mentioned and linked in the article, this tip was found on MacWorld. It’s a great tip, so we elaborated on the process to include a screenshot and quick video walkthrough demonstrating the feature.

  6. Myron says:

    Also check out the Application fseventer. Does that and whole lot more…

  7. Sven says:

    I use the Spotlight folder search and it hasn’t failed me yet.

    Also, some prefs will be in /Library/Preferences

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